Tag Archives: Palaeography

A personal touch: Chasing autograph manuscripts of medieval lawyers

The Middle Ages span a millennium, and the very term has long darkened our understanding of this period in European history. Somehow the image of the Dark Age keeps to some extent its force for children, the general public and scholars alike. Seemingly out of the dark come the persons whose names we know, and romantic phantasy has often been very active to make them as colourful as possible. Clovis, Charlemagne, William the Conqueror and Saint Louis, the holy French king pronouncing the law, are among the people for whom we can find out more than only battles, deeds and orders, but we hear seldom the voice of more ordinary people. Thus the counsels of Dhuoda to her son, the visions and songs of abbess and composer Hildegard von Bingen, and Christine de Pisan, a passionate writer and defender of women, stand out even stronger, because they shed light on the history of women, too. In the field of medieval art there has been a hunt to find traces of individual artists. Some works of art still bear their names, but others remain anonymous.

Cover Autographa I.2

Medieval law, too, can seem not only a very masculine, but also a very impersonal affair. However, juridical glosses from the twelfth century in the manuscripts with the main texts of Roman and canon law are sometimes signed with an abbreviated form of the names of lawyers such as Azo, Jacobus Bassianus, Rogerius and Pillius. In the last decades another hunt has brought some astonishing results. Scholars have been able to identify autograph manuscripts of a surprising number of medieval lawyers. Individual scholars succeeded in connecting one or more manuscripts directly to the author of a particular juridical text. Surprisingly this is indeed possible for medieval lawyers, for many scholars not the group in medieval society you would immediately pinpoint.

On February 8, 2017 the second volume of a series of studies about medieval autograph manuscripts will be presented at the École française de Rome. This post is a small tribute to the scholars contributing to these volumes, and especially to Giovanna Murano, the courageous editor who has set an example herself in approaching legal manuscripts with new questions and sharing her wisdom and results with others. The blog Storia del Diritto medievale e moderno alerted me to the presentation of the new volume, and apart from translating the main information of their message in French I will try to provide some context for this important publication.

The hands of the masters

During the thirteenth century a system for the reproduction of medieval texts used at universities came into existence. Book shops were given controlled master copies, exemplars of these texts. Students could hire quire after quire for scribes to make copies. The pecia system – literally “piece” – was first described for theological manuscripts by Jean Destrez. Last year Frank Soetermeer died, the Dutch scholar who did research about the use of the pecia system for legal texts in Italy and France. Giovanna Murano, too published a book about the pecia system, Opere diffuse per exemplar e pecia (Turnhout 2005). Since a few decades it becomes clear that the chances for survival of original author manuscripts were relatively high. In the sixteenth century, however, printers often discarded the very manuscript(s) they had used to produce printed versions of texts.

Recognizing the handwriting of a specific author can be easy, but first you have to connect an inimitable script with him or her. The almost illegible script of Thomas Aquinas (circa 1225-1274) got nicknamed littera inintelligibilis by his contemporaries, and the mirror writing of Leonardo da Vinci in the fifteenth century is rightly famous. Medieval lawyers signed in particular charters, acts written on parchment, or added some confirming lines in their own hand to consilia, legal consultations. The cover of the new volume shows a consilium with some of such closing lines and signatures. The interest in these consilia has helped very much to make the identification of the handwriting of medieval lawyers possible.

Perhaps the single most important step was the identification of a set of autograph manuscripts in the Vatican Library written by or produced under the direction of Baldo degli Ubaldi (1327-1400), first signalled by Giancarlo Vallone, ‘La raccolta Barberini dei “consilia” originali di Baldo’, Rivista di Storia del Diritto Italiano 62 (1989) 75-135. You can read online (PDF, 9 MB) an article by Vincenzo Colli, ‘Collezioni d’autore di Baldo degli Ubaldi nel MS Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Barb. lat. 1398’, Ius Commune 25 (1998) 323-346. Twenty years ago Colli identified more autographs and other manuscripts close to their author for other medieval lawyers as well, for example for Guillelmus Duranti (around 1237-1296), the author of the Speculum iudiciale, a massive legal encyclopaedia, ‘L’apografo dello Speculum iudiciale di Guillaume Durand’, Ius Commune 23 (1996) 271-280 (online, PDF, 3 MB), and together with Giovanna Murano ‘Un codice d’autore con autografi di Giovanni d’Andrea (ms. Cesena, Biblioteca Malatestiana, S.II. 3)’, Ius Commune 24 (1997) 1-23 (online, PDF, 9 MB).

In the second volume of the series on medieval autograph manuscripts [Autographa I.2: Giuristi, giudici e notai (sec. XII-XV)Giovanna Murano (ed.) (Imola 2016)] you will find some eighty images of medieval manuscripts, and very often you will see a medieval consilium and a manuscript of a particular work as evidence for the identification of an author’s hand. Apart from lawyers who published legal works the team looks also at medieval judges (giudici) and notaries (notai). For the second volume twelve scholars have identified 49 authors and consulted more than one thousand manuscripts in more than two hundred libraries. The new volumes contains eighty photographs.

Giovanna Murano contributed an article about the autograph of Antonio de Roselli’s Monarchia for the second volume of the Festschrift for Mario Ascheri, Honos alit artes. Studi per il settantesimo compleanno di Mario AscheriPaola Maffei and Gian Maria Varanini (eds.) (4 vol., 2014), a publication briefly mentioned here, too, available in print and online. In the first volume a whole section is dedicated to articles concerning medieval legal consilia. Murano provides a must-read on this genre with her article ‘I consilia giuridici dalla tradizione manoscritta alla stampa’, Reti medievali. Rivista 15/1 (2014) 1-37. She offers an uptodate illustrated introduction to this medieval genre. It gives you an example of her rigorous thinking and dense argumentation. At every turn Murano makes you think and reconsider matters you had not thought about for a long time or simply not carefully enough. In a similar article she gives a status questionum for the study of the Decretum Gratiani, the great treatise for medieval canon law from the early twelfth century [‘Graziano e il Decretum nel secolo XII’, Rivista Internazionale di Diritto Comune 26 (2015) 61-139; online].

The first volume of the series Autographa appeared in 2012. In my view both volumes can serve also as a palaeographical atlas for anyone studying the learned law, i.e. the medieval – and Early Modern – use of Roman and canon law. Instead of hunting digitized manuscripts on your computer screen or tablet you might want to sit down and study the variety of handwriting offered by Murano and her international team. The books can be used indeed as a fine guide to medieval legal manuscripts. However, maybe it is simple the urge to come as closely as possible to the hands of the great magistri of Italian and French medieval universities that makes you want to have these books within your reach. The names of medieval lawyers change here from glorious but inevitable dead names into living persons, not just as law professors producing a theoretical frameworks for judges, advisors and officials all over Europe, but at work themselves, counseling parties or pronouncing judgment on cases which show law in action. These manuscripts and archival records offer a splendid window to medieval life and society. My warmest congratulations to Giovanna Murano and the scholars participating in this great project! It deserves your attention by all means.

From rules to cases in medieval canon law: A tribute to Charles Donahue

Banner Cause Papers - Histiry Online and Borthwick InstituteWhen you would ask me to single out any legal historian for his or her versatility, path-breaking articles and books, stimulating teaching and generous help I would answer that choosing anyone would mean that I seriously underestimate the qualities of a lot of other fine scholars. On November 29 Harvard Law Today published an article about the honours lately bestowed upon Charles Donahue. In October a conference was held to celebrate his efforts in the field of legal history, both for the history of the common law and medieval canon law. This last field offered me the original impulse to start my blog, and therefore it is fitting to create space for a truly great scholar.

John Witte, Sara McDougall and Anna di Robilante edited a Festschrift called Texts and Contexts in Legal History: Essays in Honor of Charles Donahue (Berkeley, CA, 2016). Remarkably this volume does not yet figure on the website of the publishing institution, the Robbins Collection at Berkeley’s School of Law. Its website might be in the midst of a substantial makeover, including the launch of a new website for the manuscript catalogue, but this surely is an omission, yet another reason to get into action here. In this post I will focus mainly on Donahue’s work for the history of canon law, but you will not mind reading some remarks about other periods and themes which received and receive his attention. A third reason for writing this post is the opportunity to look at two most interesting projects for digitizing archival records which form a wonderful window to the practice of medieval canon law.

Taking the plunge

Photo of Charkes Donanhue - source: Harvard Law SchoolMy most vivid memory of Charles Donahue is the way he presented a paper at the International Congress of Medieval Canon Law in 1996 at Syracuse, NY. He commented on the needs to combine the qualities of research into legal doctrine, ecclesiastical institutions and social history. The three of them benefit immensely by being studied together, not in isolation. Of course this is a huge challenge, but Donahue memorably ended saying: “Let’s get out here and do it!” He did indeed exactly what he announced. One of the challenges is having the courage and stamina to work at all in a field like the history of medieval canon law which is both utterly fascinating and bewildering in its complexity. Critical text editions are still scarce, and you might be the first scholar since decades to look at particular manuscripts, or literally the first in centuries to study archival records.

Cover Charles Donahue "Law Marriage and Society in the Later Middle Ages - source Cambridge UP

In order to assess the possibilities to use archival records from medieval church courts Donahue set out to create a survey of these records with reports by a team of scholars from all over the world, The Records of the Medieval Ecclesiastical Courts: Reports of the Working Group on Church Courts Records (2 vol., Berlin 1989-1994). Earlier on he published with Norma Adams Select Cases from the Ecclesiastical Courts of the Province of Canterbury, c. 1200–1301 (London 1981; Selden Society Publications, 95). A recurring theme in a number of his publications is medieval marriage. In 2008 Donahue’s great study Law, Marriage, and Society in the Later Middle Ages: Arguments about Marriage in Five Courts appeared. Cambridge University Press provides online access to some 300 additional pages with notes and texts. The five courts in this work are York, Ely, Paris, Cambrai and Brussels. At his Harvard homepage you can download Excel sheets from the databases with the materials from these courts. Sharing these data with other scholars is wonderful when you realize how much work it takes over many years to prepare these materials before you can execute the kind of study Donahue did.

Projects at York

For one of the dioceses Donahue studied in his great book about medieval marriage, law and society you can now access documents online. Surprisingly there are even two connected projects which bring you to ecclesiastical justice in the medieval archdiocese of York. The first project to come online was The Cause Papers in the Diocesan Courts of the Archbishopric of York, 1300-1858, the fruit of cooperation between the University of York, in particular the Borthwick Institute for Archives, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, History Online and JISC. The Borthwick Institute provides you with background information about the digitized records. It is also instructive to read entries at the project blog which ended in 2011 with the launch of the database. The Cause Papers can also be searched online at the portal Connected Histories. It is a bit weird to see at this portal the label Local records applied to both the Cause Papers and the Proceedings of the Old Bailey. It is precisely a strength that they are also important sources for local history, but they can bring those investigating them much more.

The core of the project for the York Cause Papers (CP) is the database which allow you to search more than 15,000 cases from many perspectives. For a number of cause papers images are provided, but I cannot determine the algorithm or human reasons behind the selection. Looking for cases after 1500 can bring you to images of the records involved. Earlier on the Borthwick Instituted had published guides to the cause papers, W.J. Sheils, Ecclesiastical Cause Papers at York: files transmitted on appeal 1500-1883 (Borthwick Texts & Calendars 9, 1983), D.M. Smith, Ecclesiastical Cause Papers at York: the Court of York 1301-1399 (Borthwick Texts & Calendars 14, 1988), and D.M. Smith, The Court of York 1400-1499: a handlist of the cause papers and an index to the archiepiscopal court books (Borthwick Texts & Calendars 29, 2003). At the website of the Borthwick Institute is also a very useful guide to records from other courts at Carlisle, Chester, Durham, Sodor, the diocese of the Hebrides, and Man, all of them, however, for the period after 1500. The database of the Cause Papers brings you to summarized information about the cases dealt with in these records. If you want to look in it for matrimonial cases you will see at least 1,600 cases from four centuries. A search with the keyword matrimonial brought me 241 results between 1300 and 1500. Donahue prepares for the Selden Society the volume Select cases from the ecclesiastical courts of York, 1300-1500 which will contain some 400 cases from the Cause Papers.

Logo York Archbishops'Registers RevealedThe medieval records themselves are at the center of a second project at York, York Archbishops’ Registers Revealed, The digitized registers cover the period 1225 to 1646. The contents here are much wider than only legal cases, but they, too, appear. As one of the showcases in the background information you can look at documents concerning the divorce of king Henry VIII from Anne of Cleves in 1540 (Abp Reg 28, f. 142r). For this project 32 registers have been digitized (Abp Reg) and also five Institution act books (Abp Inst AB) from the sixteenth and seventeenth century. You can browse a particular register and browse for people, religious institutions and groups. locations and subjects, or use the free text search field. A simple search for marriage yielded some 300 results. Supplementary indexes exist already for three registers. These indexes are rather important. When you look under A for Anne of Cleves she is absent in the database because in the standard view only input from indexed registers is shown. You cannot reach directly for records for people not included in these indexes. It is evident that the case from 1540 was found using earlier indexes, and primarily the historical overview of matters at the beginning of a register. The need for indexing some forty registers with 21,000 digitized images is clear and just as important as compliance with IIIF, the initiative for interoperability between images from various sources, rightly advocated in this project. Having the digitized images in front of you on your screen is great, but some of the classic activities of the historian’s craft are still indispensable, if only for deciphering the texts. Maybe I can seduce you to have a look at ‘Under a magnifying glass’, a recent post on my second blog Glossae concerning juridical glosses from the twelfth century, where I compare a number of online tutorials for medieval palaeography. By the way, the Borthwick Institute has also started digitizing seventeenth-century visitation records from York.


For yet another diocese in medieval England, London, you can consult at home records thanks to the Consistory database created by Shannon McSheffrey (Concordia University, Montreal) using registers covering the periods 1467-1476 and 1487-1496. The database contains transcriptions and translations of documents for this last period. McSheffrey helpfully provides a generous bibliography of modern scholarship about late medieval civil and ecclesiastical courts in England. McSheffrey provides introductions to major themes in the cases from London, such as defamation, marriage and divorce, tithes, testaments, clerical behaviour, and matters as debt and perjury. You can approach the cases directly or look for specific subjects, people, locations, and also for depositions. The variety in possible approaches to these records is not new for those already familiar with medieval canon law, but surely this range of subjects covered by ecclesiastical law should make more people curious about canon law.

Among the supporting institutions of the Canadian Consistory project is the Ames Foundation, since many years led at Harvard by Charles Donahue. One of the online resources of the Ames Foundation are the page proofs of The Register of the Official of the Bishop of Ely: 21 March 1374 – 28 February 1382 edited by Marcia Stentz and Charles Donahue. I had used the word opus magnum for Donahue’s book on the comparative history of medieval marriage courts, but this edition deserves this description, too. Marcia Stentz’ calendar of the Ely register formed the starting point for a full critical edition. As an asset the Ames Foundation has also put online digital images of this register [Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, Ely Diocesan Records, EDR D2/1]. Establishing a correct numbering of all pages in this register is just one of the myriad things needed to pursue the long road to the final edition. At the first folio the Ely register has the heading Registrum primum causarum consistorii episcopi Eliensis (..), but this register does not contain solely cases heard in an ecclesiastical court. Other tasks and actions of an officialis, the episcopal judge, come into view, too.

I leave it to my readers to see for themselves the recent additions concerning medieval canon law among the online publications of the Ames Foundation, a remarkable feature of a society promoting the history of English law! You will also spot Charles Donahue’s name for his support for the online edition of Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Colonies: An Annotated Digital Catalogue, edited by Sharon O’Connor and Mary Bilder, but his work for the Ames Foundation reaches beyond specific editions.

Editions in the digital age

When reading this contribution you will notice with me a great variety in editorial approaches for online editions or presentations of late medieval church court records. The Cause Papers of York are accessible in a database, but you will find for cases before 1500 only detailed summaries of cases. The range over the centuries is great. I would view it as a search tool. York Archbishops’ Registers Revealed does give you access to digitized images, but the online indexation of the records has not yet been completed. Here you will need medieval and Early Modern palaeography, and you have documents from an even longer time span. The Consistory database for diocesan records from London offers you detailed access to transcriptions and even translations, but for just one decade. Here you can quickly focus on the cases. The edition of the Ely register is certainly both a classic edition enhanced with images, and in a way it is in a class of its own. The context of an ecclesiastical judge during eight years is here right in front of you. Depending on your personal interest as a scholar or teacher you will sometimes prefer a full edition, to provide either students with a quick road to a first encounter with a source, or inversely make the importance of auxiliary sciences clear by showing images of historical records. Each approach is to some extent perfectly valid and valuable. Space forbids me to discuss here the editions by Monique Vleeschouwers-Van Melkebeek for Cambrai and Brussels of records of the officialis, let alone her work on Tournai with probably the earliest surviving records from the late twelfth century. Donahue does use these sources, too.

At the end of this contribution I am sure that Charles Donahue would very much want to make this extensive comparison of editions in print and online. Of course I could only point to some aspects of Donahue’s work. It makes me eager to look at his work in more depth! Studying medieval law is one of the means to discover the great differences of law and society in place and time during a millennium. It teaches you to be wary about rapid generalizations and labels. I confess to be charmed and sometimes very much moved by the records of medieval courts and the way they can be made tell-tale witnesses of society at large, of life in all its dimensions, of people trying to lead their lives. Somehow human interest is the greatest when you see people facing the machineries of the law, be they cunning plaintiffs, helpless defendants, shrewd or wise lawyers. In its best incarnations as in the work of Charles Donahue studying and writing about medieval canon law is both part of legal history and the humanities.

Mapping Australia, an encounter between art and maps

Start of the exhibition In my latest post the importance of maps for combining both classical and digital approaches for historical research got some attention. It is not a coincidence that I would like to follow this trail by looking at a number of examples, but I had not expected that an exhibition in Utrecht would become the focus point. The Dutch king opened on October 3, 2016 the exhibition Mapping Australia. Country to Cartography (AAMU, Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht). Old maps and modern visions of maps created by Australian artists with aboriginal ancestors are presented here together. The exhibition is a part of the commemoration of 400 years Dutch discovery of Australia in the so-called Dirk Hartog Year, named after the Dutch schipper who in 1616 involuntarily sailed to the west coast of Australia. It offers a good opportunity to look at the digital presence of relevant maps showing Australia at the portal Old Maps Online and the recently redesigned portal Memory of The Netherlands. In 2010 I looked here briefly at this remarkable museum and its collection of law poles.

On the map

Late 17th century Dutch map of

Hollandia Nova – “Kaart van den Indischen Archipel, tusschen Sumatra en Nova Guinea (…)” – late 17th century – The Hague, Nationaal Archief, Kaartcollectie Buitenland Leupe, no. 344

The exhibition at Utrecht shows mainly but not exclusively Dutch maps of Australia. There are also more general maps of the southern hemisphere. The maps have been chosen from the holdings of Utrecht University Library and the Nationaal Archief, the Dutch National Archives in The Hague. Some 2,000 old maps held at Utrecht have been digitized and can be found online at Old Maps Online. The maps held at The Hague come from a special map collection created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Kaartcollectie Buitenland Leupe). The map to the right is one of the items on display at the AAMU and happens to feature prominently in a thematic dossier about Australia at the website of the Nationaal Archief. Among the digitized items of the Nationaal Archief is Abel Tasman’s journal from 1642 (NA, Aanwinsten Eerste Afdeling, no. 121). Tasman, made also drawings of the coastal areas he saw.

The 1616 tin dish commemorating the landing of Dirck Hartogh - Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, NG-NM-825

The 1616 tin dish commemorating the landing of Dirck Hartogh – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, NG-NM-825

Perhaps the most stunning historic object comes from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The very fact it is held in their holdings struck me forcefully. You could argue that the Dirck Hartogh tin dish is not just an object of Dutch maritime history, but also a telling object in Australian history. Dirck Hartogh ordered the carving of his arrival on October 25, 1616 with the Eendraght on the west coast of Australia at the island which still bears his name, Dirk Hartogh Island. Willem de Vlamingh found this dish eighty years after the landing, replaced in with a copy and brought the original dish back to Amsterdam. Thus the oldest object from Europe that ever touched Australian soil returned to its point of depart in Europe.

Old Maps Online has gained its importance as a quick way to find historical maps precisely because it brings together maps from different angles, countries and perspectives. In the case of Australia it matters enormously to have rapid access to these old Dutch maps because they contain details not presented on other maps, and thus they have influenced cartographers elsewhere very much. Any reader of Simon Garfield’s On the Map. Why the World Looks the Way it Does (London 2012) will be aware how not only the actual shape and contents of a map are important, but also the visions mapmakers create. The combination of rich collections from several countries, each bringing both maps printed nearby and in foreign countries, makes Old Maps Online into the rich and invaluable resource it has become.


The digital portal Memory of the Netherlands contains now 132 collections from 84 institutions. You can search for these collections and institutions, or choose a preset theme. The theme Maps and atlases yields nearly 19,500 results. However, this filter has been programmed to include also topographical drawings. You can adjust the filters to include only maps which brings you to some 1,400 maps. If I choose for marine charts (365 items) you cannot search immediately for a specific location. In its current look it is more practical to look for a location in general and subsequently narrow your search to maps or charts. The portal gives access to an impressive total of nearly 800,000 items. Depending on your search question, either a general question which you want to explore or a more restricted one, you will encounter many interesting items. It is still possible to view the famous topographical collections such as the Atlas Schoemaker directly. This double use of the word atlas should serve as a reminder that even though digital materials might have been digitized with a view to historical research the sources themselves were not made with this intention. For the purpose of this blog post you should perhaps begin with the digitized atlases from the holdings of the Nationaal Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam.

Mapping with a different mind-set

Artistic maps at the exhibition

Maps created by Judy Watson

The historical maps of Australia form a major part of the exhibition at Utrecht, yet the modern art works which either mirror old maps or reflect concepts of space and spatial representation attract rightfully your attention. In particular the work of Judy Watson invites you to rethink the role of maps, especially the names of locations. The Dutch and English deliberately gave their own names to Australian locations which of course had and have their own names given by the indigenous people of Australia.

Lawpoles at the AAMU, UtrechtApart from drawings and paintings there are also minor objects to be seen, such as beautifully carved shells, and some larger objects, a number of law poles. Interestingly, the law poles belong to the main collection of the AAMU. They are part of a series of contemporary art works which have helped setting the boundaries of land belonging to indigenous people. This theme was itself the focus point of an exhibition at the AAMU in 2010 about which I reported here briefly. I cannot help thinking now that these law poles are here very much museum objects instead of being elements of the present state of affairs in Australia regarding indigenous people. The past years a number of contemporary Australian art works has been shown around Australia in travelling exhibitions.

Place names of Australia - viedo installtion by Judy Watson

Any of my thoughts to be just looking at an art exhibition was dispelled when I spotted among the place names projected in a video installation by Judy Watson on a map of Australia Cape Grim and the Cape Grim Massacre. Watson’s point is not only recording such grim places as Cape Grim and Suicide Bay on Tasmania, but showing the sheer impact of a majority of English and Dutch names for Australian locations. The Dutch might not have occupied physically much Australian territory at any time, but giving locations a Dutch name was definitely done with to commerce and control. Van Diemen Land and Tasmania are not exceptional examples of lasting Dutch influence. I would like to mention here the online Companion to Tasmanian History, edited by Alison Alexander, Centre for Historical Studies, University of Tasmania, where you can pursue this approach and much more.

Reading the sources

Logo Wat Staat Daer

At the website of the Dirk Hartog Year you can find in the section Dirk’s Library information about his life and voyages for the Dutch East India Company, and not as you might expect books about him or even his personal library. I could not help inspecting the transcriptions of some of the historical records – including the tin dish from 1616 – and noticing gaps and misunderstandings. Instead of frowning upon this situation it is better to point to a brand new website about Early Modern Dutch palaeography, Wat Staat Daer? [What Is Stated There?]. Three archives in the province Noord-Brabant launched this website earlier this month. Even if it is not a tutorial it does give you not only a number of documents to decipher, but also a digitized version of a handy booklet by Willem Bogtman, Het Nederlandsche schrift in 1600 [Dutch Handwriting in 1600] (Amsterdam 1938; reprint 1973) showing you the variety of forms of letters in Dutch documents. Some users of Wat Staat Daer? point to an online tutorial for Early Modern Dutch palaeography of the University of Amsterdam. One user gives the link to a website for Dutch sixteenth-century palaeography using records of criminal justice at The Hague for a very short period, 1575 to 1579; in particular the reference section is very useful. Hopefully these websites help also all those investigating traces of Dutch history in locations from New York to Brazil and from South Africa to Sri Lanka and Indonesia or the global impact of the Dutch East India Company. The VOC Kenniscentrum and the Atlas of Mutual Heritage are among the virtual harbors where your research into the history of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie can start. The municipal archive in Amsterdam has a special page about Dirk Hartogh, with a discussion also of the various spellings of his name.

For those wondering why I do not mention here the Digital Panopticon, a project combining data from the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online 1674-1913, the Convict Transport Registers Database and the First Fleet to create a history of English and Australian people over the centuries, I did so here in an earlier post about the Digital Panopticon. This project is not only a showcase for digital humanities, it showcases also legal history in fascinating ways.

Among the many activities of the Dirk Hartog Year some of them are clearly connected to the events of 1616, its immediate impact and historical influence. The Western Australia Museum created a small but interesting online exhibition, 1616 – Dirk Hartogh. At the website of the Duyfken 1606 Replica you can find more information about important Dutch voyages to Australia in the seventeenth century. This autumn the replica of the Duyfken is sailing along Australia’s west coast in remembrance of Dirk Hartog’s journey. The Nationaal Archief gives an overview of other Dutch activities concerning “1616” in 2016 and 2017. The Dutch National Archives have produced a glossy magazine with the flawed title Boemerang. Nederland-Australië 400 jaar, which you can download as a PDF. I feared it was only available in Dutch, but luckily the website of the Dirk Hartog Year contains a link to the English version. The choice of subjects in this colourful magazine is really not narrow-minded. It would be one-sided to leave out here the websites of the National Archives of Australia and the National Library of Australia, but enough is enough. For me writing this contribution has been in some way a voyage of discovery, although I have collected over the years a selection of links to websites touching Australia’s legal history on my legal history website. Hopefully I can seduce you to look out for uncharted territories, to rethink the importance of historical and linguistic borders, and to get inspiration from artists who raise difficult questions about our own time.

Mapping Australia: Country to CartographyAboriginal Art Museum, Utrecht – October 4, 2016 to January 15, 2017

Charlemagne’s Europe, a construction


While busy with updating the congress calendar of my blog I spotted an announcement about a project at King’s College London, The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe. The website consists of a database containing one thousand early medieval documents, mainly charters. The database is surrounded with a series of useful guides, instructions, a bibliography and a selection of links. The first aim of the database is to create a unified framework to extract socio-economic and prosopographic information from the selected charters. A second aim is stimulating research into these early medieval legal documents themselves.

As a medievalist I have been trained to use all available written evidence to its utmost extent. My first frown when looking at this database was caused by the fact that not all surviving relevant documents, some 4,500 records, have been included here, but perhaps I expect too much. The database is clearly still in a beta phase. The list of charter editions from which documents have been extracted is fairly long. Some collections have been included entirely, for example the charters in the Diplomata Karolinorum series of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, and from many others at least a few items have been selected. From the edition of the Chartae Latinae Antiquiores all charters between 768 and 814 have been included.

It is probably wise to remember that we are looking in fact at a pilot project, and not to judge it too quickly. If you insist on having more materials immediately at your disposal, you can relish the presence of many online resources indicated in the splendid array of useful links. In this post I will tell you about my first experiences with the website of this project. The decision to create a database for researching Carolingian charters was not an easy choice. The visions behind this project are relevant for many comparable projects. What are the benefits of this project? Does it help to get closer to the legal realities within the Carolingian empire? Does it help us to refine our perceptions of legal history?

Back to basics

Chronicles and charters are the basic materials for doing historical research on subjects from medieval history. In a way the focus on charters of this project brings you back to a familiar playground. When you start to use the database in its simplest way, by browsing charters, you are immediately struck by the multitude of available filters, not only for classic attributes as the transmission date, repository and place names, but for many more determining elements. The filters help you to analyze a corpus of documents in a very structured way and helps to make comparisons possible on a sound base. In particular connections between people and changes in roles – and status – can become much clearer than they were before.

However, I could not help thinking that somehow you will find here only information that has been already labelled by others, but in fact the project team has done a lot more. They insist on making clear the multiple roles and significance of the information in charters. The student guide of the website gives good examples of the tiny differences in very similar charters that should make on think matters anew. In one charter a person is described as the abbot of a monastery, in the next example he is not. The first example mentions the patron saint of a church, in the next charter this information is not present. The examples show also the necessity of distinguishing the location where the charter was created, the place of a donation, places within a certain territory, and unidentified place names. Tucked away in one of the paragraphs of this guide is the very important remark that the database does not give you the actual text and images of charters. Links to digital versions will be added in the coming months. This basic feature, or should one say: basic lack, deserves more emphasis than just an oblique reference.

Results for DKar I:117

The selection of documents already included in the database was made with an eye to the greatest possible range of places, regions and types of transactions. It should not surprise you that I concluded that even the city of Utrecht, in the Carolingian period decidedly at a distance of the most important places and persons, is present in the database. The charter DKar I:117 (June 8, 777) proved to be a very instructive example. Utrecht is not only the name of the bishop’s see but also of his diocese. The charter was granted at Nijmegen. Several locations in the charter are within the diocese of Utrecht, a number of them at unidentified locations. The recipient of the grant is count Wigger for Alberic, the rector of St. Martin’s at Utrecht. Alberic is a priest. Charlemagne is credited with three qualities: king of the Franks, king of the Lombards, and patrician of the Romans. This is the only example of Utrecht in the database, but it contains enough to place it in a wider context. In 778 Alberic became the bishop of Utrecht. Gaining such personal information is one of the aims of the project.

Seemingly strange is the missing location of the Upkirika, one of the objects granted. The database gives for individual elements the exact wordings, and the location super Dorestad places this church at least clearly in the region surrounding this well-known trade centre south-east of Utrecht. Apart from properties the grant includes also a toll right. The image above does not show the large clickable map where you can see identified locations. To the left of the map is a list of all locations mentioned in a charter. A second overview mentions place relationships. In DKar I:117 Leusden is a place within a smaller territory, in Flettheti. I was somewhat mystified that the database has as a place entry Utrecht, territory (Flehiti), and not inversely Flehite, with as description “territory in Utrecht”. The procedures behind place relationships are discussed in an interesting contribution on the project website.

The list of useful links at The Making gives for the Netherlands only the online version of the registers of the counts of Holland and Hainaut between 1299 and 1345 and a link to the online list of medieval cartularies and modern editions at TELMA. In the list of charter sources only the Oorkondenboek van Noord-Brabant tot 1312 (ONB) has been included. However, a number of Dutch and Belgian charter editions (oorkondenboeken) is even available online. The Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301 (OSU) has been digitized by the Huygens Institute, as are the ONB – in a partnership with a foundation for the history of Brabant –  and the Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299 (ONH). The portal Cartago leads you to charter editions for Friesland, Groningen and the German region Ostfriesland. Medieval charters from Belgium will become available online in 2015 within a project called Sources from the Medieval Low Countries, supported by the Belgian Royal Historical Commission. You can use a cd-rom with the Belgian Thesaurus diplomaticus from Brepols. The URL for the Diplomata Belgica does not yet function. Among the Scandinavian diplomataria the Svenskt Diplomatarium is not mentioned, perhaps because the oldest document in it dates from 817, just outside the period under consideration here. On that ground you could also exclude the Diplomatarium Norvegicum which starts in 1050. I am sure this and similar information will be swiftly added or corrected.

Apart from browsing for charters you can browse for agents and places with a similar wide range of filters. Conceptually the very act of creating of a charter is seen as amounting to a fact, called a factoid, with connections to places and peoples, and probably changing them, too. It is very advisable to read the contributions at the website about the choice to create a database instead of opting for the use of “mark-up” texts.

By the way, choosing Utrecht as an example in this post is not a random act. The Utrecht Centre for Medieval Studies has a fine tradition of research into many subjects of the Carolingian period, including legal history, for example the history of penitentials, see Rob Meens, Penance in medieval Europe, 600-1200 (Cambridge, etc., 2014). The latest project Charlemagne’s Backyard looks at the rural history of the Low Countries in the Carolingian period, combining both written and archeological evidence.

A first impression

Are there similar projects where you can find more? The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe does use data from the Nomen et Gens project at Tübingen with prosopographical and onomastic information from the eight century. CharteX deals with charters from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. The use of maps in the project of King’s College London reminded me of the interactive maps of Regnum Francorum Online, a project of Johan Åhlfeldt. It is certainly wise to use this geographical information to check and corroborate search results in the KCL’s project. It is surely possible to give more examples of digital projects which support your research into Carolingian legal documents, such as the Carolingian Canon Law Project led by Abigail Firey (University of Kentucky), and the Bibliotheca legum (Karl Ubl, Universität Köln) with the socalled Völkerrechte.

It is a silly joke but The Making of Charlemagne’s Europe is still a bit in the making. The rebuttal by the project team to this remark is really justifiable: They assemble the very evidence to help you to question the truth behind the assumption that Charlemagne and his successors aimed at creating something like a European presence. When you combine the data contained in their database with printed and online editions of Carolingian charters, and preferably also with any other kind of legal documents from this period, you will be able to get a much more detailed view of Carolingian society, the networks and relations. The Making is not the definitive answer to research questions, but it does deserve inclusion in your digital toolkit when doing Carolingian legal history. One of its great merits is its refined conceptual framework for studying and analyzing medieval charters. Even without a working database the approach to Carolingian charters is worth close study. 2015 is just a few days old, there is enough time this year to look at legal history with new eyes!

Reconstructing Bentham’s legacy

Among the events mentioned for February 2011 in the congress calendar of this blog was a two-day conference at the École Normale Supérieure of Lyon on Psychiatrie et prison: le question de soin aux personnes détenues (Psychiatry and the prison: the question of care for persons in detention). The main hall of the ENS could not contain all those who wanted to attend this conference on February 3 and 4, so videos have been made of this event which can be viewed now online. The service of making available these videos is very welcome. Before I knew that the Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de Lyon would do this, I had pointed to Interfaces, the blog of their Rare Books Department, where you can find for instance a post on the French version from 1791 of John Howard’s The state of prisons. Lately this blog has presented a series of posts on legal medicine in the nineteenth century, Le médecin-legiste à la Belle-Epoque. Penal law has not yet figured on my blog, and I will try here to make up a bit for my silence on the subject.

Transcribing Bentham

Logo Transcribe Bentham

Somehow Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) came to my attention. For some reason I do not know very much about him, and the few things I knew are very obvious, his idea of the panopticon – realized in at least three Dutch prisons, at Arnhem, Breda and Haarlem – and his support for utilitarianism. Sometimes I could not quite understand what makes Bentham an important thinker. Reading about the Bentham Papers project of University College London (UCL) made it clear that in fact only parts of his written legacy are accessible in print, and perhaps this, too, explains part of my unfamiliarity with him. Lately this project has had major coverage in the media, including an article in the New York Times, but perhaps it is not bad for legal historians to bring some aspects of it together.

Claire Warwick, director of Digital Humanities at UCL, blogs about the activities of this center. UCL has decided to propel the efforts of the team editing the Bentham Papers by calling in the help of the general public. Transcribe Bentham invites people to make transcriptions of papers from one of the 174 boxes at UCL with Bentham’s legacy. You can register to volunteer for the transcription of a document – wisely always chosen from a restricted set of boxes to ensure continuity – and after registration you get digitized images of the documents. The transcriptions are created online using XML encoding and will be checked by members of the editorial team. Crowd-sourcing is the apt term for this way of making people participate in a project. UCL has a central website on Bentham, and next to the website for the transcribing project is the website for the Bentham Papers database where you can search for texts by Bentham and his correspondents. My imagination is fired by the way people are invited to support historical research, to decipher and read historical documents and to take a part of the burden faced by the editors of any texts. Giving Bentham back to the people is the kind of slogan that involuntarily comes on your lips.

Bentham started his career as a lawyer. As a philosopher the workings of the law were not alien to him, and even where he does not touch upon law, criminal justice or jurisprudence it is clear that he did not overlook them in his appeals for social reform and his theoretical works on society. Bentham is only one of the major European thinkers of the nineteenth century. For many of them institutes exists which dedicate their efforts to the study and publication of scholarly editions of their published works and papers. Maybe legal historians will not directly benefit from the efforts brought together for Bentham’s legacy, but surely some ideas of the UCL project merit attention. The idea of invoking the help of the public or creating working committees is not completely new, but digital media can give cooperation an extent hitherto not thought possible. Claire Warwick stresses the great value of creating wider support for digital humanities, not only by starting this transcription project, but also by making visible the sheer width of humanities and by discovering the possibilities of social media.

Medieval punishments

Bentham was a reformer. Penal law was one of his targets. Medieval penal law is one of the most vivid subjects – and targets –  in popular historical  imagination. The medieval history of punishments is the subject of the latest issue of Madoc 24/4 (2010), a Dutch journal for medieval studies. On March 4, 2011 this volume with the title Straffen in de Middeleeuwen was presented at the Dutch national museum for criminal justice, Museum De Gevangenpoort in The Hague. For reasons unknown to me the museum’s website does not mention the presentation on the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of this journal based at Utrecht. Neither did I or the Dutch legal history portal Rechtsgeschiedenis make any references to it. I will make up for this omission by making your curious about this issue. Han Nijdam writes about punishments in medieval Frisia, Guy Geltner brings you to Le Stinche, a prison in Florence, and Jos Koldewij looks at costumes conveying shame. Jan van Herwaarden revisits pilgrimages inflicted on people, Adriaan Gaastra writes about the penitential practice in the early medieval libri paenitentiales, and Clara Strijbosch has studied the punishments of the afterlife shown in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani, both in the Latin and the vernacular versions. Some of the authors see parallels with today’s ideas about criminal justice. The authors of this number of Madoc maintain this journal’s happy tradition of bringing the results of recent research in a very readable, attractive and yet scholarly way.

More on transcribing online

Some knowledge of scribing conventions old and modern is needed to read any manuscript. The auxiliary discipline of palaeography deals with this problem. The UCL project Transcribe Bentham takes due notice of these matters. On March 7, 2011 Eric Hennekam alerted the visitors to his forum for archives to the MONK project at the University of Groningen. MONK aims at building a system for transcribing and searching text in digitized handwritten records. The blog Archive 2.0 has a post on this project. Archive 2.0 is an interesting blog of a group of Dutch archivists discussing new developments in the archival world. The blog post is in Dutch, but the interface of the Monk demo website is in English. Among the texts are accounts from the county of Guelders (1425), a document in Latin  from Louvain (1421), and late nineteenth documents from Groningen. What if MONK would be used to transcribe Bentham?

Crowd-sourcing is one of the themes on another Dutch archivist’s blog, De Digitale Archivaris, and you will find there a post on the Bentham project from September 29, 2010, with a reaction of UCL’s Bentham team.